In Five Hours, Three Dead Workers

Such neglect for safety of construction workers by the government and employers is unacceptable. Out of 21 workers killed this year, 12 were Arab citizens of Israel

Palestinian construction workers at the site of a new structure in Maale Adumim on June 22, 2017.
Palestinian construction workers at the site of a new structure in Maale Adumim on June 22, 2017. Gil Cohen-Magen

On Thursday, in the space of just five hours, three construction workers were killed in Israel: Dong Guangqing from China; Mohammed Mahagna from Umm al-Fahm; and Mohammed Nasser Amara from Kafr Kana.

The lethal combination of neglect by construction site employers for their workers’ safety and neglect by the government for oversight of workers’ safety has exacted a heavy price. But some sections of society are at greater risk than others. According to an organization that tracks construction site accidents, out of 21 workers killed since the beginning of the year, 12 were Arab citizens of Israel, five were foreign workers, one was a Palestinian from the occupied territories and three were Jewish. The prevailing view is that a greater number of Palestinians have been killed, but the data on them is not complete.

Guangqing, 40, was killed at about 8:30 A.M. after falling from the fifth story of an Electra construction site in Rosh Ha’ayin. Over the past two years, six workers have been killed at various Electra construction sites. Mahagna, 44, was run over at about 9:30 A.M. by a tractor he was guiding at a road construction site at the Hof Hasharon interchange. Six months ago, another worker was killed at that same site. Amara, a 16-year-old 10th-grader, fell at 1:30 P.M. from scaffolding that collapsed at a site in Nahariya, northern Israel. By law, no one under the age of 18 should be working at such a height.

In addition to the three fatalities, four other construction workers were injured in other accidents throughout the country on Thursday. Given the lack of oversight and enforcement, construction companies – including the chain of subcontractors they use – don’t have many reasons to change their modus vivendi and stop taking safety laws lightly. More than once, workers who tried to insist on basic safety rules have been censured, replaced or simply fired. It’s hard to mistake the message the government is sending employers on this issue: workers’ lives are much less important, if at all, than the fruit of their labors.

In this respect, responsibility for construction site deaths rests with the government. The urgent need for improvement in the salaries and work conditions of safety inspectors in the Labor Ministry’s Safety Administration has been known for a long time. But as long as only 19 inspectors are responsible for some 13,000 construction sites, the claim that there is any oversight is nothing more than an illusion, bordering on deception.

In light of the accumulating reports of deaths at construction sites Thursday, the minister responsible, Haim Katz, complained, “It’s been a year since I submitted my demand to the Finance Ministry to raise the pay of the inspectors and nothing has moved.” But Katz is not an observer on the sidelines. He has enough tools and options to handle the issue. The outcome indicates he has failed. And the government continues to abandon construction workers.